Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I had an uncle named Sol.

This does not make me special.

Most Jews have an Uncle Sol. Not that it's religiously required. We just have some sort of group aptitude for it.

Less like a bris, more like a hankering for lox on a bagel.

My Uncle Sol was named Sol Cohen. This did not make him special.

I am guessing the majority of Uncle Sol's are named Sol Cohen.

Or were. The Uncle Sols (or should that be Uncles Sol?) of this world are dwindling in number.

Uncle Sol was a mysterious figure in my childhood. The youngest of my grandmother's siblings, by the time I came around he was already long ago retired to Florida.

Or maybe Arizona.

Some place sunny where old Jews end up.

Uncle Sol would venture forth from this land of Polident and early bird specials, along with my Aunt Trudy, for roadtrips back to the sacred Jewish homeland (i.e., New York), whenever some family member had a wedding or a funeral or a similar simcha.

I have a very distinct remembrance of Uncle Sol at my bother's bar mitzvah. Or my bat mitvah. Or maybe both. He kind of upstaged us at those events, because he served as the cantor.

Cantor is the Jewish term for the person who sings all the prayers at a Jewish service.

He served as the cantor is the Jewish term for my mother got out of paying a real cantor to do the service. Saving a dime being, in and of itself, an important Jewish rite of passage.

Anyone, Uncle Sol was short and thin, that sort of old Jew. And in his cantorial role, he wore a navy blue dress shirt. A white suit and white tie. And white patent leather shoes.

He looked like a very bad mobster.

Or an even worse John Travolta wannabe, circa Shabbat Night Fever.

Although just thinking about Uncle Sol doing the hustle is enough to give a person the Heebie Bee Gees.

Sol's simcha services didn't just start with the chanting of the prayers. Because on those roadtrips, he and Aunt Trudy would stop for a session or two at Elderhostel.

Elderhosteling is just like Youth Hosteling. Except that instead of a backpack, you have back pain. And instead of smoking weed with rolling papers a-burning, you sow the seeds of esoteric learning.

In Uncle Sol's case, this esoteric learning included a course on food garnishing.

Garnish is a great thing for an old Jewish man to do, since it kind of sounds like it's some mysterious Yiddish-language activity.

I don't want to cause a shonda, but emes, last time I saw him, he was looking a bissel garnished.

(If you have no idea what that means, don't fret. Just take another bit of your mayo on wonderbread sandwich and turn up the Prairie Home Companion. I'm sure you must think that's a laugh riot)

Since my parents' on-the-cheap approach to simcha celebrations included having our bar and bat mitvah receptions in the backyard, Uncle Sol's newfound skills came in quite handy.

He carved watermelon fruit baskets.

Apple swans.

And an exceedingly disturbing hard-boiled egg and black olive penguin.

The other day, as I was biking home from the food co-op, I came upon a free box, or really several plastic bags and two boxes of free stuff, left at the side of the road by what, from the contents of the bags and boxes, I can only surmise was an incredibly avocationally-motivated drag queen.

S/he sewed! S/he accessorized!
S/he cooked! S/he crafted!

And s/he practice the Fine Art of Garnishing.

They say practice makes perfect, so perhaps s/he had already perfected those carving skills to the point of not needing the how-to book, because that was right there in the free box.

Or at least it was until I snagged it.

So if you see a sharp glare and hear a strange murmuring, that is just me, donning my white patent leather shoes and refreshing myself on the words to the Kiddush, and ho-ho-haTikvah-hoping there will soon be a bris to which I can take my melon baller.

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